We are just over a month out from the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, so it is time to start getting hyped!
Barring any trades, the Flames will be picking outside the top 10 of the first round of the NHL Entry Draft for the first time since 2012, when the club traded down to select Mark Jankowski 21st overall. Since then, they have selected Sean Monahan 6th overall in 2013, Sam Bennett 4th overall in 2014 and Matthew Tkachuk 6th overall in 2016. In 2015, the Flames were slated to select 15th, but ended up trading the pick on draft day when the Boston Bruins were gracious enough to gift the club Dougie Hamilton.
This year the Flames hold the 16th overall pick and if they hold onto that pick, there could be some intriguing players available. This draft is looking like it is going to be pretty chaotic. It seems clearcut that Swiss forward Nico Hischier and Winnipegger Nolan Patrick will be the top 2 picks of the draft, but after that, it is anybody’s guess. If you take a look at a compilation of draft rankings, you will see the players from about 3 to 18 are slotted all over the place.
It is impossible to predict who a team is going to have available for them to draft and then who they will actually select when it is their turn to make the pick (see the Mark Jankowski selection of 2012). With this much uncertainty heading into the draft and 15 teams selecting before the Flames, who knows who will be available. However, here are 3 players that seem to either be falling in the rankings or are generally being slept on. All 3 have the potential to provide great value to the club that selects them and while it is unlikely they will all drop to Calgary, it would not be surprising to see at least one of them available.
Nick Suzuki (C) 5’11”, 183 LBS
Oshawa Generals (OHL) 65 GP, 45 G, 51 A, 96 PTS, 10 PIM +51
Nick Suzuki would be an absolutely phenomenal pick should he fall to the Flames at 16th overall. With the type of numbers he has produced, he should be a top 10 selection for sure, but the draft rankings of various outlets do not seem to see it that way. TSN’s Craig Button is highest on Suzuki, ranking him 11th overall, but various other outlets have him ranked in the 20s. He was first among all CHL draft eligible players in points-per-60, posting a 3.17 which is truly dominant and makes you wonder why the scouts are sleeping on him. He was recently named a Second-Team All Star in the OHL.
He is not a huge guy but it is not like he is small by any means. While he plays centre, he is a right-shot which is something we all know the Flames need to add into their young core. It is also worth noting he does not turn 18 until August, so he is almost a full year younger than someone like Nolan Patrick. It is pretty baffling why he is not being more highly regarded. I would not be surprised if a team that drafts very intelligently (like the Winnipeg Jets) looks at snagging him before the Flames get the opportunity, but if he is still available when it is Calgary’s turn, I would be livid if they passed on him.
Kailer Yamamoto (RW) 5’9”, 160 LBS
Spokane Chiefs (WHL) 65 GP, 42 G, 57 A, 99 PTS, 46 PIM, +14
Unlike Suzuki, you can at least see why teams may be a bit apprehensive about Yamamoto, due to his stature of being just 5’9”. However, as we have seen time and time again in recent years, being that size is not a barrier to success in today’s NHL. Especially when you are as skilled and productive as Yamamoto is. Yamamoto finished 6th in WHL scoring. He had one of the more productive seasons among CHLers eligible for the upcoming draft, yet it is very reasonable to believe that he could be available for the Flames to select when they pick at 16th overall. Corey Pronman of ESPN is very high on Yamamoto, having him ranked 10th overall, but many other scouting publications have him projected toward the back half of the first round.
Probably the biggest objection fans will have to the idea of selecting Yamamoto is that “the Flames are a small team that needs to get bigger, not draft more small players”. This is a perception that is rampantly floating around among the fan base, but it is unequivocally false. Last season, other than Johnny Gaudreau, Kris Versteeg was the only Flame regular that was shorter that 6 feet. The Flames are not the small team they used to be. They are however, a team that could use more skill on the wings and a right-shot forward with high level talent would fit in wonderfully. Yeah, they should probably not put a player like Yamamoto on a line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but you could see a nice fit with Yamamoto alongside Bennett and Tkachuk. If Suzuki is gone, Yamamoto is a player the Flames should seriously consider if available at 16.
Timothy Liljegren (D) 5’11” 182 LBS
Rogle BK (SHL) 19 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, 4 PIM, -2
It seems like every year, there is a defenseman that starts off highly regarded to begin their draft year and then continuously slides down the rankings and the actual draft board on draft day. 2 years ago, that player was Oliver Kylington, who the Flames managed to snag with the 60th pick in 2015. Last year, it was Jakob Chychrun, who the Arizona Coyotes picked 16th overall. This year, it appears that the sliding defenseman is Timothy Liljegren.
Prior to this season, Liljegren was regarded as the top defenseman of this draft and a likely top-5 pick. He has drawn comparisons to his Swedish countrymen in Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, two very lofty comparisons but that obviously means he has some very high end qualities. Liljegren missed a good chunk of the start of the season due to a bout of mononucleosis and it is fair to assume that even when he finally returned, it took him a while to feel up to speed. Although I think he has a higher potential than Calgary prospect Oliver Kylington, you can see a lot of comparables in their draft stock crashing due to injury or illness, along with strong criticism of their skilled offensive play on the backend occasionally leading to very noticeable gaffes.
I really do not expect Liljegren to slip to 16th, but I also did not expect Kylington to drop anywhere near as far as he did, or Chychrun to slide where he did. If Liljegren falls to the Flames, he would be a great player for them to use their first rounder on. He is a right-shot, is highly skilled and the Flames have enough high-end defensemen that Liljegren could be brought along at a pace that works for him and could be sheltered when he reached the NHL level.
Higher Risk is Better Than Safe
All these player have a potential of dropping to the Flames because there are perceived red flags regarding them (although I have absolutely no clue what the red flag is on Suzuki). However, at the spot the Flames are picking at, it is better to go for a prospect like one of these guys, who could end up providing tremendous value relative to the 16th overall pick. It is the better way to go than snagging a guy who will be an NHLer but probably will not move the needle in a significant way.
Like I said, I am sure that these guys could be fairly high on some teams radars. However, there are always players that slip lower than their skill warrants. If any of these skaters are available to the Flames at 16 overall, the Flames could be rewarded for taking a chance on them.
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